Would You Let AI Handle Your Phone Calls?

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Jan. 16, 2020—Attendees of Google's I/O conference in 2018 were a bit taken aback when they listened to a phone call between a prototype Google Assistant and a real human at a hair salon.

The Google artificial intelligence set up a hair appointment while sounding completely natural and apparently without the person on the other end realizing that the counterpart wasn't human at all.

Google launched a business solution soon after, and it focuses on similar capabilities. The difference is that instead of making appointments, it's taking them. CallJoy is an example of automated phone solutions that businesses can get for a monthly subscription fee. The idea is that an automated system will be sure to catch each call and be able give basic information in response to customer inquiries.

“You can set it up to greet your customers, answer common questions, send them text messages and route calls," says Greg Sanford, product marketing manager for Area 120, Google's experimental division that launched CallJoy.

A shop owner would set up a greeting that the AI assistant (called the "agent" by the company) would say when answering the phone. The responses are customized based on the shop owner's knowledge of what customers ask about.

Callers don't have to use the exact phrasing that shop owners put into the system, Sanford says that the program is able to pick up on cues to get the answer.

“It’s really good at that because it looks at patterns across all the phrases that you enter," he says. "The more phrases you enter into the system, the better it becomes. We recommend entering in 10 if you can.”

From there, shop owners direct the system to do things like forward to a specific person, send out a text link to an online appointment form and other things. The system also tells customers that the call is recorded, and CallJoy encourages the use of recordings and transcripts to improve the automated system.

If for some reason the system can't understand the customer after a couple tries, it sends the call to the shop, Sanford says.

The technology is a positive development from the old "press 1 for customer service" sorts of automated systems. And Google is among the major tech companies that are working to develop their voice-activation systems.

The CallJoy system has multiple voices to choose from. Unlike the human-sounding prototype mentioned at the start of this article, this sample from CallJoy sounds comfortably identifiable as artificial.

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